Finding direction after school and university can be tricky - especially for creatives. Shrewsbury singer-songwriter Raven Shelley describes her 'epiphany' moment, which led her to devote herself to music. She has now recorded five singles with a London-based record label, with the second due out mid September. Pictures by Ben Stiff
- Listen to Sink in Solitude by Raven Shelley HERE
Surely, it is a universal human experience to wake up at least one morning during your life and think: “What the hell am I doing with my time?”
For me, that epiphany came one wet morning – or, to be strictly accurate, one wet afternoon – in Manchester. I’d woken late, having been out the night before, and I was annoyed with myself for having now wasted most of the day. I was in my second year of university, which, whilst fun, was also a time when I started to realise that graduation – and real life – actually weren’t that far away, and yet I had no idea what I was going to do afterwards. At school in Shrewsbury, my aim had been to get to university so I could spend my time studying the subject I had always adored: English Literature. And yet now I was here, and I had everything I’d always wanted but it all felt colourless.
I was living in a large room in a chaotic shared house, and there were two big windows that looked down onto the street. It was winter and, as usual, it was raining, in that cold, drizzling way that seems peculiarly unique to Manchester. The light was flat and dull, and I stood looking down at the grey urban street, at the litter, the sludgy brown leaves and skeleton trees, at the houses opposite, wondering about the individual stories and tragedies that might be unfolding just metres away.
I had been reading Shakespeare’s Richard II for the first time, and was struck by its beauty and eloquence. I was especially enamoured with Richard’s final soliloquy. Shortly before he is murdered, having lost everything, he reflects, “Thus play I, in one person, many people,/And none contented”. Later, he laments “I wasted time, and now doth Time waste me”. These lines affected me deeply and were the spark for ‘Sink in Solitude’, the song I ended up writing that flat and dreary afternoon.
I remember a feeling of catharsis after I had finished the song. I’d not written anything for a while – a lapse that had contributed to the feeling of time passing without achievement – and although transforming despair into music didn’t change anything materially, it did help. And that feeling of catharsis is, I think, one of the things that draws me back to music every time.
Like many people, after university I considered all sorts of options. But many of those weren’t actually options at all because I graduated during the emptiness of the first “Lockdown” summer. I spent the ensuing winter working 13-hour shifts in a Covid-19 Testing Centre in Manchester, one of the only places where work was available. In my more whimsical moments, I entertained all sorts of peculiar ideas about what I would do if the world ever opened back up again. But deep down, I knew that for me, nothing could ever beat the feeling of achievement that comes from finishing a song, when all the pent up emotion that I’ve been dragging around is released, and I’ve created something beautiful.
I always joke that I cause chaos in my own life just so that I’ll have something to write about. But really, I know that I take all the pain, all the anger, all the hurt, and also all the love – all those feelings that run through me – and I transform them into something else, something that can often translate to a universal human experience. It’s an interesting way to view things, because even if I’m hurting, I can think “Well, once the rawness of this has subsided, I’ll be able to process it, and turn it into art”.
Perhaps it’s this knowledge that keeps my self-belief afloat. Though you finish some gigs and you’re ecstatic, you can also be playing some evenings to an empty room in some back street pub with 3 people and a dog listening. And yet, sometimes all you need is one person to hear you for everything to change.
It was only after university, only after working in the Covid Test Centre, that I decided to send some demos of my songs – ‘Sink in Solitude’ included – to various record labels. One London-based label – The Animal Farm – wanted to hear more, and from there everything changed. I suddenly had a direction, something to pursue. I now have 5 singles recorded: one has been released and the second, ‘Do You Miss Me Yet?’ (which is in a much more cheerful vein to ‘Sink in Solitude’!) is due out in mid September.
‘Sink in Solitude’ was the start of all this. It was a song written to myself, to force myself to take action and not waste the time I’ve been given. Adrift at university after the transition from school, I was lost. And then I found what I wanted to do. Music, writing music, is as essential to my life as breathing. It’s my oxygen. And that’s something I hold onto even when life is tough.
So, I think I’ve finally figured out what the hell I’m doing with my time.
- Take a bit of time to explore this Shrewsbury musician's output - it'll be worth your while! She has a beautiful, soulful voice and extremely smart lyrics inspired by her passion for literature. Find her on social HERE or on YouTube Music HERE